Former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet requested FBI help in finding links between indigenous groups and terrorists abroad, Wikileaks cable shows.
Five confidential embassy cables sent to Washington from the U.S. Embassy in Santiago demonstrate an even-tempered approach to the indigenous conflicts in Chile’s Araucanía Region, which have historically been greeted with over-dramatized responses from local politicians and sensationalized, selective coverage by local media outlets.
Released by Spanish newspaper El País, the cables from 2008 and 2009 detail separate conversations between then-U.S. Ambassador to Chile Paul Simons and former Chilean Interior Minister Edmundo Peréz Yoma, and former cabinet minister and indigenous policy coordinator under Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, José Antonio Viera-Gallo.
To date, only nine of the 1,464 cables originating in U.S. Embassy in Chile’s capital have been published by WikiLeaks, the internet whistleblower that has captured headlines with a plan to slowly release over 250,000 classified embassy cables spanning recent decades.
Though the first four Santiago-based cables did not make waves in Chile, the latest batch already has politicians preparing denials, with headlines nationwide declaring “Bachelet’s Government Requested U.S. Intelligence Help With Mapuche Conflict.”
Perez Yoma, in a Feb. 7, 2008 meeting with Simons, alleged the possible collaboration between Mapuche activists and terrorist groups like the FARC and the ETA in Spain’s Basque area, asking the FBI for “help in following the money.”
According to Chilean newspaper La Tercera, however, Perez Yoma has denied any contact with Ambassador Simons concerning this issue.
Domingo Namuncura, former head of Chile’s government agency dedicated to indigenous issues (CONADI), declared the request for FBI intelligence “reprehensible” and a threat to national sovereignty by “soliciting a foreign government to meddle in policies of national security,” according to El Mostrador.
Even more revelatory are the evaluations of indigenous claims by U.S. political specialists, as detailed in a Sept. 3, 2009 cable titled “Myth Vs. Reality In Chile’s Mapuche Conflict.”
Following a trip to Mapuche territory, the cables describe an indigenous territory conflict far less violent and paralyzing than described in Chile’s conservative and sensationalist media, frequently egged on by politicians like then-presidential candidate Sebastian Piñera, who declared “Araucanía is in flames.”
“A casual observer of Chilean news coverage could be forgiven for thinking that violent Mapuche activists with strong and active links to the FARC and ETA are killing innocent civilians each week in the so-called ‘Mapuche conflict’,” said the cable.
Yet the cable appropriately explains, “In contrast to the sensationalist news coverage, the reality of relations between the indigenous Mapuche community, their non-indigenous neighbors, and the Chilean state is complex and sometimes contentious, but overwhelmingly non-violent.”
While the indigenous groups concentrate on property destruction as part of ancestral land claims, all three deaths related to the Mapuche conflict since Chile’s 1990 return to democracy have occurred at the hands of Chilean police, with victims all under the age of 25.
The U.S. summary likewise notes the insistent application of the Pinochet-era antiterrorism law to enforce harsher sentences on indigenous activists, supported by then-opposition politicians such as Sebastian Piñera, who is now in office. “Despite vocal allegations in the press,” the cable concluded, “the opposition has yet to produce credible evidence that there is significant and on-going cooperation between the Mapuche community and FARC and ETA terrorists.”
U.S. research into the possible ties of the most infamous indigenous organization, the Coordinadora Arauco Malleco (CAM), to foreign terrorist groups revealed little beyond what was termed in the cable as “guerrilla tourism: traveling to rebel-held areas of a third country for photos and meetings with little follow up.”
“It was clear that, as U.S. Ambassador [Paul Simons] observed, such ties between international terrorism and the Mapuche movement don’t exist,” Viera-Gallo said to local press while playing down the impact of WikiLeaks disclosures. “This diagnostic coincided with what we [Bachelet’s government] believed, which was very distinct from the opposition at the time.”
Remaining 2009 cables analyzing the Mapuche conflict in Chile underline 20 years of failed policies and insufficient legislation from Concertación governments, bureaucratic barriers to recovering ancestral land, and widespread poverty and discrimination that fuel anger and frustration in the long-marginalized communities.
Those communities, however, are likewise described by the U.S. Embassy as “disorganized and incoherent, offering up a range of demands from the logical to the fanciful,” and suffering because “a small number of violent actors discredit those who work in good faith to advance legitimate grievances.”
“It is difficult to envision substantial progress,” U.S. officials concluded in a Sept. 2009 cable, despite Bachelet’s recent efforts to address indigenous claims.
Dated Oct. 23, 2009, the most recent cable succinctly predicts, “The issue will remain a thorn in the side of the Bachelet administration—and perhaps its successor.” That successor would be now-President Sebastián Piñera, whose first year in office has been filled with months of Mapuche hunger strikes and dubious promises to overhaul the anti-terrorism law.